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The cervix is part of the female reproductive system, which also includes the ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus (womb), vagina (birth canal) and vulva (external genitals).
What the cervix does
The cervix connects the uterus to the vagina. The cervix:
- produces fluid to help keep the vagina healthy
- opens to let menstrual blood pass from the uterus into the vagina
- produces mucus that helps sperm travel up the uterus and fallopian tubes to fertilise an egg that has been released from the ovary
- holds a developing baby in the uterus during pregnancy by remaining closed, then widens to let a baby be born through the vagina.
Where cervical cancer starts
The cervix has an outer surface that opens into the vagina (ectocervix) and an inner surface that lines the cervical canal (endocervix). These surfaces are covered by two types of cells:
Squamous cells – flat, thin cells that cover the outer surface of the cervix (ectocervix). Cancer of the squamous cells is called squamous cell carcinoma.
Glandular cells – column-shaped cells that cover the inner surface of the cervix (cervical canal or endocervix). Cancer of the glandular cells is called adenocarcinoma.
The area where the squamous cells and glandular cells meet is known as the transformation zone. This is where most cervical cancers start.
Understanding Cervical CancerDownload resource
This information is reviewed by
This information was last reviewed in September 2021 by the following expert content reviewers: Dr Pearly Khaw, Lead Radiation Oncologist, Gynae-Tumour Stream, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Deborah Neesham, Gynaecological Oncologist, The Royal Women’s Hospital and Frances Perry House, VIC; Kate Barber, 13 11 20 Consultant, VIC; Dr Alison Davis, Medical Oncologist, Canberra Hospital, ACT; Krystle Drewitt, Consumer; Shannon Philp, Nurse Practitioner, Gynaecological Oncology, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse and The University of Sydney Susan Wakil School of Nursing and Midwifery, NSW; Dr Robyn Sayer, Gynaecological Oncologist Cancer Surgeon, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Megan Smith, Senior Research Fellow, Cancer Council NSW; Melissa Whalen, Consumer.